Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Straight Shooting (III)

A few more thoughts on WC'06 and the best and worst from the cup.

After 63 games, the beautiful game proves once again that the quality of athletic performance on the field is as exciting as watching grass grow. Yet it remains addictive. Low scoring, slow play, timid attacks, suffocating defenses and excessive bookings, yet the drama of the event and the occasional all-time classic (Italy/Germany) always manage to overcome that, and make the world cup experience worth it. BUT the unacceptable thing for a true fan is questioning the integrity and credibility of the game. One can complain about the referees and their questionable judgment calls (and, as always, there were more than a few hasty ejections, penalty kicks, offsides…), but the minute one start speculating the involvement of bribery and behind-close-door deals, it is time to re-evaluate things. Why would you as a fan invest emotionally (and even financially if you are into gambling) in a game you do not trust? If English fans are in any doubt that the Argentinean referee had a hidden agenda against their team, they can switch to watching WWE, at least they know it is rigged in advance.

-Within the same lines, a “veteran” sports columnist concluded somehow that Beckenbauer and Blatter have reached an agreement where FIFA helps Germnay win the WC’06 in exchange for Beckenbauer not challenging Blatter for the FIFA president position, up for elections soon! How does a leading newspaper in Jordan publish such garbage? (Rhetorical question to Addustour daily).

-The one thing that the English fan can really complain about is the way penalty kicks were taken.Rule 14 Penalty Kick: Art. 4 states that: "Once the kicker starts his/her approach toward the ball, he/she may not interrupt his/her movement. Failure to kick the ball as specified shall result in a rekick". The literal intrepretatiois that the mere act of a stutter step or not a clean, smooth movement to the ball will be a rekick. If you look back at the last Penalty kick taken by Cristiano Ronaldo (and maybe 2-3 other kicks before it), the execution of the penalty kicks can be questioned.

-A quick summary of another snooze fest:
Argentina controlled the ball for most of the game and overtime. They had a mental lapse around the time their keeper hurt himself flying carelessly after a cross. Two quick substitution for Argentina and they are confused between the minutes 72-80, when they give up the tying goal. Germany’s substitutions were much more effective anyway. The most exciting part of the game was the post game fight and the German celebration (Bowling), which looks even more ridiculous now, since the guy who rolled the imaginary ball was Frings who was suspended for punching Julio Cruz during the fight.

-Speaking of GER/ARG: Beckenbauer and his new (kind of hot) wife looked very depressed before the tying goal. They had that look on their face like they cannot find the Viagra bottle on their wedding night. I could not get that image out of my head, even when Germany scored and they looked happy, calm and completely satisfied.

-For all those Italy fans that think their team played a perfect game against an inferior Ukraine team, check out this sequence of events from the running diary:

57’ Buffon makes a miraculous save. He is face to face with Gusiev and he manages to block Gusiev blast. Zambrotta miraculously clears the rebound shot right at the goal line. Ukrain has outplayed Italy so far in the second half.

59’ Italy scores on a cross that is border line offside. Toni in a position that could have been called either way, but he scores his first goal in the cup and celebrates by shaking his hand next to his head. If you play in your first cup at the age of 29, maybe you are not that good in the first place. Montella and Delvecchio think Toni is better of playing club soccer.

62’ A big shot by Ukraine bounces of the cross bar. Ukraine is still surprisingly contending.

68’ Zambrotta makes a great run from the left side and creates another goal. Game over.

The point is that until the semi finals none of the 4 teams have shown anything special, or not even played a single dominant game, where they completely outplayed their opponents. (Except for France who could not beat the Swiss and Korea but dominated Brazil worse than it did Togo, but that is a different story).

-However, Italy/Germany was the marquee game of the WC’06. An instant classic. Even without the two last minute goals, the game featured high quality play and constant action throughout the 120 minutes. There was no stretch more than 5 minutes without a shot on goal or a scoring opportunity. Italy played their best game in 16 years, and everybody on their team (maybe except for Toni) contributed and played at a great level. (just think of the Iaquinta heel to Gilardino who sends it back on a misdirection pass to a charging Del Piero who misses wide left in the 23’ of the overtime). Germany played a almost as good, and had their scoring opportunities by Podolski and Schneider, on balls set up by Klose who found some gaps in the Italian defense. But they were either too late to pull the trigger or Buffon was there to make some timely and miraculous saves. Games like this one is what make the world worth watching.

-As for FRA/POR, that was a good game to a certain point as well. It was really high tempo in the beginning until the French scored on that penalty kick. Now, keeping up with the “referees are bad” theme, and after consulting a group of soccer experts including former collegiate soccer players, the judgment was that the call was legitimate and correct. After Zidane took a Socrates(BRA) like PK and buried the ball in the back of the net, France slowed the game down and protected their shaky keeper who has conceded (only!!) two goals so far. Portugal had some last minute semi-chances but was shut down completely by the French and advanced to their second final in the last three world cups.

BEST AND WORST lineups of WC'06
-The anti all-star team features the disappointing, underachieving and overrated players, who either disappeared during the games, or could have helped their teams much more if they stayed home:

GK: It is hard to single out a terrible goalkeeper from this world cup. Most keepers did a decent job when they could, and a few of them committed more than one mistake, or directly cost a team a game. The award goes to Cristian Mora(ECU) because he ridiculously painted the flag colors on his cheeks like a female fan and hence caused his team a chance to beat England through bad karma.

DF: Cafu and Roberto Carlos (BRA) looked gassed with nothing left in the tank. Puyol (SPA) looked lost against France and Zidane made him look really bad on a few plays. Heinze (ARG) the Man U "star" made multiple mistakes and almost cost his team the game against Mexico (he should have been ejected). Neill (AUS) had a good world cup but he caused the last minute PK against Italy. Ooijer (NED) should not be making his WC debut at the age of 34 and costing his team the game because he cannot close on a striker inside the box.

MF: Ronaldinho (BRA) did not show a single moment of anything. Rena (USA) the team captain does not belong on a field and he turned the ball over in front of his goal costing his team the game against Ghana. Ali Karimi (IRA) the Bayern Munich star who used to have a really nice touch on the ball, completely vanished. And the most overrated player, and the player who touched the ball twice in his last two games Mr. Spice Girl (ENG).

FW: One cannot go wrong with an all English front of Rooney (ENG) who was not impressive in anything he did, and Crouch (insert joke here). Sweden played much better with Ibrahimovic(SWE) on the bench. Van der Vaart (NED) was supposed to be the next big thing for Holland and he might have broken a record for most minute played without touching the ball. The whole squad of Serbia&Monte Negro was really a no-show,( and their steel defense gave 10 goals in 3 games), but they were supposed to have a guy nicknamed (Batman) who was the top scorer in the Dutch league and plays for Chelsea. Kezman(SMN) world cup accomplishments include a red card and the stupidest facial hair of the tournament.

Coach : Van Basten (NED) picks the starting line up and Carlo Alberto Parreira (BRA) draws the plan.

-The all star teams has those who showed world class skills, enthusiasm for the game, constant action and eventually carried their teams to achievement:

GK: Buffon(ITA) he is easily the most confident goalkeeper out there, even before his Germany superb performance. He came with key saves and allowed one (own) goal so far in the tournament. Ricardo (POR) Also allowed a single goal (and apenalty kick) and his performance in the PKs against England earned him a spot here.

DF: Miguel (POR) has completely shut down Robben against Holland and provides good offensive support from the right side. On the other side Sorin (ARG) is easily the best at his position. Cannavaro (ITA) leads a solid Italian unit. The English played some good defense especially against Portugal and Ashley Cole (ENG) represents the unit here based on his effort to save a possible early goal against Ecuador. Grosso (ITA) appears here if for nothing else, for the two game winners against Germany and the PK against Australia.
(Honorable Mention: Van Bronckhorost (NED), Thuram (FRA), Marquez (MEX), Lahm (GER), Terry (ENG)).

MF: Figo (POR) and Zidane (FRA) are the main reasons their teams reached the quarter finals, it is great that they came out of retirement. (Same for Nedved (CZH) who had a great world cup, but cannot be on the all-star team since his team did not qualify). Maxi Rodriguez (ARG) was more of a factor in midfield than his more known teammate Riquelme. Vieira (FRA) carried his team for two games and is still very active especially on defense. Gattuso (ITA) could be the best defensive midfielder in the cup. It could be a stretch choosing three midfielders from France, but I cannot ignore Ribery’s effort and constant motor, just because he has a Dr. Evil scar (car accident when he was two), he definitely belongs here.
(Honorable Mention: Ballack (GER), Essien (GHA), Van Persie (NED), Kaka (BRA), Hargreaves(ENG), Perlot(ITA)).

FW: Very few quality strikers in this cup. Klose (GER) is an easy pick. Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) plays behind the sole striker in Portugal’s scheme but he is very active up front and has a good touch on the ball. Another spot here is awarded to the most unknown good player in the cup Jaziri(TUN) who had a goal that could be considered the best volley play of the cup and had a great assist to tie in the last minute against Saudi Arabia. Tunisia in general had a solid squad that could have been in the second round if not for the referee mistakes.
(Honorable Mention: Robben (NED), Torres (SPA), Podolski (GER))

Coach: Guss Hiddink. The only coach in the world who teaches fun to watch "total-football" play.


hareega said...

loved your anti-all-star team, totally agree with it. Australia's goalkepper was probably the worst.

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